tv Defense Secretary Esper Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Milley Testify on... CSPAN December 12, 2019 7:37am-10:01am EST
watch c-span 3 through the markup process. the based on amendments and votes to move the impeachment proceedings to the house for. follow the impeachment process live on c-span 3, online, c-span.org or listen live on the free c-span radio apps. >> defense secretary mark esper and mike milley testified for the house armed services, the. both received questions about the decisions withdraw troops from syria and the turkish invasion that followed. [inaudible conversations]
>> i want to thank our witnesses, secretary esper, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff milley for appearing before us to testify. the purpose of this hearing is to discuss our policy in syria particularly in light of the events that happened when turkey invaded and drove the kurds out of portions. our first hearing since the congressman from new york joined the committee. i want to thank him. we have a lot of new faces in this committee that are a year into it. they are not new faces anymore but good to have another freshman added to the committee. i appreciate him serving. the purpose of this hearing is to look at events around syria. a whole bunch of questions and the other big issue is the ability of memories of this committee to ask questions of the key policymake is in an
area of importance to the committee and to give them an opportunity to learn more about the policy and express their views and that is a huge part of our oversight role in congress and it is enormously important. there are three broad areas i'm interested in around this. first of all is where do we go from here? what is the mission on containing isis and defeating isis in the region. no matter how we got to the point we got the turkish incursion in syria is to change that equation. we built an alliance with the syrian democratic forces and the kurds as part of that. the history is important. we tried for years after the rise of isis to find a coalition as they build a caliphate across syria and iraq and threatened our interest in the interests of the region. that was an unchecked expansion for a substantial period of time. in 2015 the obama
administration was able to cobble together a coalition primarily of kurds and why pd in syria but also syrian democratic forces and working for the iraqis to have a counter isis movement. whatever else one can say about it, it worked. the caliphate has been broken up. because of that plan, started by the obama administration and carried out by the trump administration. it did not defeat isis. isis is a robust transnational terrorist threat but the breaking up of the caliphate was a huge accomplishment. with the incursion of turkey from the north it undermines that. what is the new plan? what happens going forward? the biggest risk of this plan from the start was the concern the turks would have about our alliance with the kurds and the why pd in particular and the obama administration tried to make sure turkey did not do
what they wound outdoing. understanding the plan is important but the other piece that is important is to understand how policy gets made, between the pentagon and the white house and how to get involved so there are concerned how this came out and i would be curious to have you tell us what happened. the president sent out a sweet the year ago in december saying, it is not directly in front of me. and there's no discussion about it, it is not like -- and it is
a policy objective, then we backfilled the policy. the process is important. i trust the job you guys do. they threw it out, and there are others. there was a discussion of a we approved. that aid was held up for period of time. those things matter for the executive branch but they matter a lot for us too. people served in the military or the cia or state department,
policymakers want to be part of the discussion to help, we want to improve upon wherever we are in that relationship. isis is a huge concern. aside held to power, seemingly will for some time. how does that impact the broader region? i have gotten back from a trip, as well as a couple other members to the middle east and there are certainly challenges but also opportunities, protests in iraq and lebanon against the iranian involvement, people are beginning to understand that iran's influence is malign and undermining their interests. in addition to containing isis that is their largest goal, to
stop iran's destabilizing influence from syria to lebanon to iraq to yemen. how can we contain them? can we build on that and get an opportunity? the concern about iran gave us a historic opportunity to deal with the israeli-palestinian crisis, an enormous crisis in the middle east. there is more of a connection between key arab states and israel because of their concern about iran. a way to build on that to create a stable middle east. those are the three broad policy areas i'm interested in. a huge part of this is to give members a better opportunity to understand the policy. we are going to pass the defense bill today. the more informed we are the better the bill is going to be. i yield to the ranking member, mister 4 and barry. >> i want to welcome both our witnesses. i believe this is the first
time you are hearing in your current capacities together and we appreciate you taking time to be with us. as we think about syria, all of us, there are those who develop a syria policy on paper and journal articles and so forth and it seems relatively simple and straightforward. what you have to deal with is the real world including the historical, cultural, religious, ethnic background and complications in this part of the world and that is the world as you found it and as you have to deal with it. it is not as simple as putting down points one, 2 and 3 on a piece of paper and assuming everything will flow easily from that. you have to deal with mistakes
by previous administrations. i remember the obama administration made a big deal about pivoting to asia implying we were pivoting away from the middle east. it turns out the middle east doesn't let you get away from it with terrorism and as the chairman points out the necessity of containing iran. i remember the previous administration drawing a redline in syria and failing to follow up, and emboldened not only a sod but others to take greater risks that the us would not follow through on threats or statements that it made. all of that is part of the quagmire that is syria today the you all have to deal with but i agree completely our challenges are how do we reduce
the terrorist threat especially to the homeland from that region and how do we contain an aggressive, seemingly increasingly desperate iran. a revolutionary regime that seems bent on expansion and disruption of key neighbors. you can't fix the whole problem. what you can do is tell us what your objectives are and what the military role is in this and we look forward to hearing on both of those things today. >> you have one joint statement, is that correct? >> we submitted one joint statement and we have separate statements. >> i will yield to mister esper. >> chairman swing, ranking member foreignbarry, thank you for testifying on a security
situation in syria and the broader middle east. i would like to thank the committee for its work, i encourage congress to move swiftly on its passage as well as defense appropriations bill. this is critical to providing servicemembers the resources they need to fully implement the national defense strategy and my deepest condolences to the victims of tragic shootings that took place at pearl harbor and pensacola this week. we are reviewing vetting procedures for four nationals who come to the united states for military training and their installation security procedures to ensure the safety of our military communities. as reflected in the national defense strategy the department of defense prioritizes china and russia as the nation's top national security challenges. as we transition our focus towards big power competition we must remain vigilant in countering threats from rogue states like iran and extremist organization like isis.
the united states traditionally seeks to ensure the region is not a patent for terrorists, not dominated by any power hostile to the united states and contributes to a stable global energy market. this translates to the following 6 objectives. first, utilize a dynamic us military presence with strategic depth to deter and respond to aggression. second, strengthen the defense capabilities of regional partners. third, advance partnership that burden sharing with allies and partners to address shared security concerns. fourth, protect freedom of navigation. fifth, the nice safe haven to terrorists that threaten the homeland and litigate wmd threats. there are a multitude of security issues to discuss in the middle east, they will focus on two of the most destabilizing players in the region, isis and iran. beginning with isis the united states achieved success alongside partner forces and syria interact to destroy the fiscal caliphate and 7.7 million people living under
its brutal. this includes the successful operation that resulted in the death of isis founder and leader baghdadi and one of his top deputies. with apartment of defense remains committed to working with partners to ensure isis is unable to mount a resurgence. today us forces remained postured in syria, in close coordination with syrian democratic forces. the recent turkish incursions complicate this battle space that the permit of the phentermine confident we can continue the mission the president has given us in syria which is to ensure the enduring defeat of isis. we maintain leadership role in the defeat isis campaign which brings together 76 nations and five organizations to provide funding, military capability and political support. in iraq we continue to work by, with and through the iraqi security forces to enable a strong and independent state. and i visited our iraqi
partners, to train and advise efforts with the iraqi military to remain strong and continue to show progress. moving to iran over the past 18 months, in the economic and diplomatic maximum pressure campaign. these efforts ring the iranian regime back to the negotiating table for new and better deal that addresses the full range of threats emanating from iran. tehran's efforts to destabilize the region to decrease in recent months to attack targets in saudi arabia disrupted commercial shipping to the strait of hormuz, shot down an unmanned aircraft in international airspace and provided support to numerous proxy groups. to address the threat we are taking our defenses to enable our partners to better defend themselves and refine our response options. since may of this year nearly 14,000 us military personnel deployed for the region to serve as a tangible demonstration of our commitment to our allies and partners. to reassure our friends and
buttress our efforts at deterrence. we focus on internationalized response to iran's aggression by encouraging increased burden sharing and cooperation with allies and partners from around the world. the international maritime security constructs which protect freedom of navigation in the persian gulf and gulf of a man memo nascent effort by saudi arabia on two examples. these activities we are sending a clear message to iran in the international community will not tolerate these malign activities. in regional stability upholding long-standing international rules and norms. iran should not mistake the united states restrained for an willingness to respond with decisive military force should our interest be attacked. with the national defense strategy the stability of the middle east remains important to the nation security. as such we will continue to
calibrate all our actions to deter conflict to avoid unintended escalation and more partners to defend themselves against regional aggressors. in doing so we will preserve the gains of the past and ensure the security of the united states and vital interests. >> chairman smith, dismissed committee members, the national security challenges we face in the middle east. before i begin i would like to echo secretary esper's condolences to the victims of the families of the shootings in pearl harbor and pensacola. on behalf of all the leaders uniformed and civilian, the united states military, our thoughts and prayers with the fallen. we are thankful for the her was meant skills and first responders who put themselves in harm's way to save countless lives. on the topic today in the middle east, on the eighth country visited israel, jordan, saudi arabia, bahrain, kuwait,
afghanistan and oman. the middle east is a challenge. the national security interests, isis, al qaeda and other terrorist groups thrive on the instability in the region as they try to export violent extremism around the world. we are not finished with that fight. iran exploits the volatility in the middle east and assert itself through malign influence to achieve regional dominance. our national security strategy as mister esper outlined has clear goals, stable and secure middle east, the middle east that is not a safe haven or breeding ground for violent extremists, a middle east that is not dominated by a nation hostile to the united states and contributes to stable global energy market. as the secretary stated, the national defense strategy provides military objectives to deter and destabilize activities extremist
organizations and outline those objectives. the national military strategy describes how the joint force achieve those objectives through our five focus areas of responding to threats, deterring strategic attack and deterring proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. and compete before the level of conflict. they continue combined operations, to complete the enduring defeat of isis and prevent their reemergence. iraq has been an essential part of to do to meeting isis in the region and we continue to work by, with and through iraqi security forces to achieve a secure and stable iraq to defend itself against internal security threat of terrorism.
the strategy is to deny afghanistan as a safe haven for terrorist attacks in the homeland and that has been our objective since october 7, 2001. we also support the effort to reach a political settlement between the taliban and afghan government and afghan to afghan negotiated settlement that ends this war in a responsible way to meet us national security objectives. iran remains the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism and increased instability in the region through state and proxy actions. as you know we have increased recently our posture in the response to recent attacks in saudi arabia and malign influence throughout the region. we will maintain strategic depth of the joint force in the region in order to deter iran and if necessary respond if deterrence fails. in broad terms our military strategy in the middle east is part of an interagency international effort to sustain conditions based approach
designed to defeat violent extremism including the defeat of isis, prevent regional dominance by iran and to assure our allies, thank you for your continued support our men and women in uniform. i look forward to an nba a later this afternoon and appreciate the opportunity to appear here today and look forward to your questions. >> we move into the questions, our witnesses have a hard stop at noon which means i will be even more aggressive about the 5-minute clock to get to as many members as possible. i had my opportunity, i won't ask questions. i will yields to mrs. davis for five minutes. >> thank you to both of you, doctor esper in general milley for joining us. i appreciate your statement and wonder if you will just perhaps in more refined fashion, why is
our military presence he sensual in syria and what can we not achieve through other means to fulfill our strategic objectives and i wonder in that answer if you can take it to three years with that military posture and touch briefly on the diplomatic mission as well? >> i will take the first stab and let general milley flesh out the last part of it. the mission remains the enduring defeat of isis. we do this on the ground, the spf has provided ground forces. what we provide are the enablers, principally the air support and intelligence, things that help us defeat isis as we see isis pops up. if you want to provide more operational details? >> why is it necessary? because isis still exists. isis as an organization is more
than an organization. it is an ideology, and inspirational group and so on and so forth. they have been defeated, the caliphate, was destroyed, defeated. the organization itself still exists and they are generally, not 100% but the lower euphrates river valley. to provide for the defeat and working by, with and through partners, iraqi security force and iraq, that enables us to maintain intelligence collection and strike capabilities to report the remnants of what is isis. if we fail to do that, isis will reemerge. the conditions will come back in the capable threat to the region and their interests. >> what are the conditions that will allow us to withdraw?
does that mean isis would have to be defeated and we know the situation in afghanistan is critical in that way as well? >> one thing, i will answer your question directly, we are fighting isis right now all the way from africa to afghanistan. .. when we get to the point where local police and security forces can handle the actual threat of isis activities and that would be a metric. >> looking to turkey and syria, what can we see and in the next three years in terms of their handling those objectives that you have outlined? >> turkey and syria have
different objectives. this is our priority with regard to syria. turkey's objective, and a hesitate to speak for them but in my discussions with the turks their number one concern is, our kurdish terrorist, the pkk, coming into turkey and conducting attacks on the turkish people. close behind that is the presence of 4 million refugees in turkey and their ability to sustain that. their focus is different than what ours is now on that front. >> could you speak to the whole of government approach there as well? this is the armed services committee but we also know if we don't have a full picture of where the state department is and their capacity at this time to be dealing with it, , that'sa real problem for us. i'm not asking you to be secretary of state, but please. >> secretary of defense is challenging enough. the state department, in the context that syria, state
department is working through a process we call the geneva process that's bringing the key players together in geneva to discuss a resolution to the war in syria, the civil war in syria. syria. that process has had its ups and downs and i'm sorry but i can't give you could update as to where things stand. progress has not been sufficient enough for our likes, if you will. >> general milley, could you, as well on your optimism, peps ms. him in terms of sport of medic mission -- pessimism in terms of your support. >> i think we the u.s. military have a requirement not just in middle east but throughout the world to support diplomatic efforts in the words of a previous secretary of defense it's much better that foreign countries do with the department of state and the department of defense. we want to act in support all the time diplomatic efforts. with respect to syria or iran for that matter as topics are
today there are variety of diplomatic efforts ongoing and were directly in support of the. >> thank you very much. >> mr. thornberry. >> mr. chairman, i will yield to mr. wilson. >> thank you, mr. thornberry. thank both of you for being here today. america's fortunate to have such leadership and nine of military families appreciate your service. it's so meaningful here mr. secretary, i appreciated earlier this year, i had the opportunity to welcome you to do for jackson. i saw empathy in relationship with the military, the troops. it was so positive and fully supported, the promotion you received to be secretary of defense and it's just reassuring again to our allies, to the american people, to military families. so thank you. and with that i'm grateful to be the ranking member of the middle east africa and international terrorist and we understand any strategy insatiably both
diplomatic and political. what is the relationship of the department of defense and state department to try to promote stability in the region? >> thank you for your comments, mr. wilson we collaborate constantly with state department at all levels to include myself speaking often with secretary pompeo. we have brought together the nsc process we have meetings to discuss these issues and so in each of them we are and in glove. part of our job is to enable our diplomats. i want to do that as much as possible. in some cases may be providing security for the distribution of humanitarian aid, in other cases it's making sure we're using our military presence to reassure and reinforce allies and partners which is what we've been doing in saudi arabia. those are just two examples of the close coronation between us and by the way other players in that realm as well whether its treasury, usaid, all the key
players in whole of government approach. >> i'm very grateful you pointed out usaid because they play such a vital role. i believe isis materialized because the precipitous withdrawal from iraq under the previous administration which followed the unfulfilled red line. this premature decision based on a timeline rather than conditions based lead to the engagement to have to defeat isis. with the president recent comments about pulling troops out of syria and keeping peacekeeping force, how will this forth the competent any of the six objectives that you and general milley have highlighted in your statement? >> the force, residual force in syria is not a peacekeeping force. it is a force focus on the enduring defeat of isis. they're working closely day in day out with the sdf to form a number of tasks underneath that overarching goal and strategy. that's the mission and their conducting those operations day
by day. >> thank you, and general milley, again thank you for your service. so reassuring to military families. you've already caution a reemergence of isis is possible. can you cite further the assessment of isis capabilities potential for resurgence absent the u.s. presence? >> my assessment at this point is that if we do not retain the capability, and intelligence capability that allows us to collect and see and then act with the strike capability on isis in syria, that the conditions for a reemergence of isis will happen. it will take some time. it will probably take maybe six to 12 months but if isis would reemerge if the united states went to zero. having said that there are other forces in the area that also have interest in attacking and suppressing isis. but left unattended whatsoever i
think they would reemerge, absolutely. >> i would add in syria we are also there without my forces which we can't discuss in this session but we have partners there as well. they are working with us and supporting the sdf and that's very important to our efforts as well. >> thank you. because to me this provides sadly safe includes for terrorit attack american families around the world and back home. so thank you for what you are doing. general, , the plan for the isis detainees held by syrian democratic forces, what is the status of maintaining the detainees as where they are or encourage you to return? >> the current status is there are 24 detention centers, prisons, that are manned by the sdf threat different parts of syria and they are still under adequate control based on the reporting that i have. there is no risk at this point that i can see, some mass escape
or that sort of thing. the sdf clearly has been under control. in the turkish incursion zones is the responsibility of the turkish government in that 30-kilometer encouragement zone in northern portion of syria, northeast syria. that's the responsible of the turkish government but in the rest sdf has control. >> we have faith in both of you. thank you very much. >> i would say -- the isis campaign health because they provide funding for the sdf to do that. i tried to give it to the five-minute, -- keep it to the five-minute period when you see the clock ofcom if you could wrap up that would be great. mr. lincoln. >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. secretary, general milley, thank you for your service. thank you for your testimony here today. to follow up on that question, one of the main things i want to get you in terms of the status of the thousand isis prisoners, the thing that most worries me is the threats to the homeland and obviously their escape would
be very troubling for our security as well as about of our allies. i appreciate the and answer yoe but is it any intention to transfer any of these prisoners to another entity? and if so how would u.s. ensure an orderly transfer of custody? >> first of all if you look at the 10,000, if a wink and a closed session and we were able -- i i would like most of theme not the threat from a think they are in terms of fighters. there's a hard-core group that he think we watch closely. i i want to make sure you understand this is a spectrum of fighters, some are more violent if you will than others. that said, the 10,000 if i remember my statistics right, 2200 or so are foreign fighters who are trying to work with our allies and partners present repatriated and brought to justice. i've had numerous discussions with our european allies on
this. i discuss with our iraqi partners and others and so we continue to engage on that front. beyond that there's no other plans to transfer them into it other than to repatriate them back to the nation's of origin, their home nations. >> secretary esper, what additional changes to the position of u.s. forces in syria are planned for the next six months? are there changes for the region? >> right now there is no disposition plans that i'm tracking. of course that could change if the threat changes or the commander needs to make changes on the ground what i will defer to general milley to see if it has anything to add? >> that's correct, the current disposition is what we anticipate for the next six months depending on the some kind of significant change in condition the right now we don't anticipate that. >> what you anticipate will happen to the syrian democratic
forces given the president decision to withdraw u.s. forces from the syrian-turkish border? they were strong allies, partners with us. >> my current assessment is that the situation up there is generally stabilized. the no cease-fire is perfect if you will. generally, my sense is things have roughly stabilized in northeast syria, but again the chairman which is in the region. he may have heard something different. >> i haven't heard anything particularly different. i think it's settled down a little bit but i but i would ao caution that it's probably a little early to tell. these things take a while to unfold. the 30-kilometer or so buffer zone that was established by turkey in the center, and then by syria and the russians on either side of that, that is
still an area of dynamic movement back and forth between the forces. we are watching it all very closely. the sdf has already made adjustments in that particular area. we are still working with them in the eastern portion of northeast syria, and then they are working with russian and syrian regimes in other parts of syria. they are continuing their cause and their fight against various entities that are inside syria. >> i would like to add one thing that i thought more about your question. the other thing with a watch out for in the coming months is turkey begins to resettle the internally displaced persons within turkey. like i said 3 million syrians. what's that going to cause in terms of disruptions with the kurds as they move them back into kurdish areas and what that? there will be some turmoil i suspect that that happens. that's beginning to happen at a
think we will carefully. >> lassa, do we expect any escalation in iran's activitiesn terms of intelligence reports that we are receiving? what do we expect within the next six months that we need to be ready for? >> obviously can't discussed dis intelligence matters in this open session but we see a lot of regime under stress right now, both through the maximum pressure campaign. we see a lot of turmoil in the streets of many cities in iran, suppression through various means are happening. you hope for the best but we're planning for the worst, and as we things happen or receipt upticks in activity we certainly will adjust our forces, adjust our posture accordingly. >> mr. turner. >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. secretary, you have tough job. she is both a difficult and contested environment. washington is both a difficult and contested environment.
the house recently passed the resolution disagreeing with the president decision to withdraw troops some syria. on the same data house would've been unable to pass a resolution authorizing keeping troops in syria. you do not have an authorization for use of force to counter russian influence in syria. to hold back iran's influence in syria, to support the kurds, to support the syrian democratic forces in their civil war against syria, to protect civilians on how they're being attacked by the syrian government itself, or to counter the assad regime. but yet those are criticism that you receive every day that you're not accomplishing in your goals of syria. how difficult is it for you to operate and formulate a policy when you don't have an updated alteration use of them to force
for the changing climate in the middle east? >> we think with sufficient authorities now under the aumfs to conduct come to do we need to do in syria. those are holding up fairly well and so we think we can do we need to do at this point in time. >> i would echo that. the old one-'02 aumf allows us strike operations against terrorist, al-qaeda et cetera. al-qaeda is a direct derivative and it is al-qaeda in iraq rebrand as isis. zarqawi was its leader at one point, so the aumf grants as of the authority to conduct operations and continue operations for the entering to be divisive. >> there has been significant debate in the house and the senate as to whether or not the scope of what you currently have i agree with you the scope i think allows you to vigorously pursue i suspect appreciate you doing that. i do believe there are number of
goals and objectives that are being placed upon you that do not cover those goals and objectives of the original aumf and i don't think the policy objectives barcoded within your assignment. with that i gild the rest of my time. >> thank you mr. turner and thank you, gentlemen for being here. my question to you is when is enough enough when it comes to rank? what is our restraint being interpreted to them by weakness? as a look back to 1979 with a taking of our diplomats were over you, they beirut bearish bombings, kovar towers were a lost a friend, uss cole bombing, if there was a asset on the pinnacle of six and eight americans were killed in iraq by shia militias or proxy of the rain. we could go on and on. at what point did interpret this as weakness, our lack of restraint? i want to hear your thoughts. >> thank you. look, it's a great question. it's one thing, it something we wrestle with in interagency and jim and i discussed it about
because your -- your assessment of that determines how much force to put on the ground what activities you do in order to deter further aggression. if deterrence fails and how to respond? obviously we have great intelligence community that helps us with that. we talk about with the friends and allies. chairman just came back from the region. i was in the region four or five weeks ago listening to them and also sending messages through them come sending messages publicly and i will repeat it again. the iranians should a mistake our restraint for weakness. we are prepared to act if our forces are our interest are attacked. the question you asked me is a key one and we think about it every day. >> we all think about beirut and khobar towers and lots of other
things, and i commanded in iraq and law soldiers to iranian supported insurgents through various missions that were provided by the iranians. so there's no pollution on any of our part about the maligned illusion about iran properly plead the use of metaphors should be a last resort, not a first diplomatic efforts should be exhausted. and all nonmilitary methods to resolve a given problem should be used first. secondly, i think you have to have clear unambiguous objectives. thirdly, i think of to have a reasonable prospect of success if you're going to use military force. so we have to be careful, deliver, thoughtful. and i think restraint in this particular situation is an appropriate response up until this point. the ball is in the iranian court. it depends on what they do, update, size scope any future
future that will determine what we do. we are in as one of the other caucus and said we're in a time of heightened risk with respect to iran, and i note this is a public hearing and we will not talk intel but i would caution iran publicly to be very, very cautious as how they proceed. >> thank you. >> i do want to follow up, on mr. turner's point, and i notice come he hates would do this but i agree with them on the aumf issue. i just want to put a a little e flavor on it. i don't think it -- >> put that in the record twice that you agree with the. >> but there's little bit of disagreement which articulate a second here but it don't it's a good idea us to be relying on the 2001 and 2008 -- 2002 aumf in 2019. we can talk about what's in the 2001 aumf and how it applies to know. i think that has been stretched the on all recognition, but the
2002 aumf is just ridiculous that we're still say this is an authority. i was here and i voted for that. the 2000 amf was to remove saddam hussein from power and stop the threat that the post. the idea that now today the pentagon is using that as authority for military action to say that was legislatively approved come most people don't even know what the hell i'm talking about. i think it is really important that we update that and that's the part where i'm with mr. turner, and chairman miller, you made a good point when we spoken before that public support for what you are doing matters enormously. we are representative of the public, for good and for ill, and if we are not saying anything about it, it gets further and further away from that public here kai think we really need to update what we're doing here, as difficult as it
may be and that simply rely on authority that a think are being twisted. i would want to work with mr. turner and others to take a public and do the any more sensible way. with that yield to mr. carnegie for five minutes -- mr. garamendi. >> thank you, mr. chairman. in 2018, the administration issued the national defense strategy, and in that strategy they talk about big power competition, china and russia. specifically raised the issue of russia's influence. russia seeks legal authority over nations on its periphery in terms of the government of economy and diplomatic decisions to shatter the nato, and change
your and middle eastern security and economic structures in its favor. the withdrawal of american forces in the northern portion of syria led to russia occupying american basis as we withdrew after we had bombed our own basis. it is now clear that rush and syria are very tight allies. russia is improving its airbases and its naval bases in syria. and apparently has a nice cozy relationship with iran, so much so that they are now providing very advanced missile air defense systems to turkey. i'm wondering if we, if, in fact, the department of defense has abandoned the national
defense strategy as laid out in the 2018 national defense strategy? so, mr. esper, could you please tell us if, in fact, we are engaged in countering russia in the middle east? >> sure, thank you. i think mr. smith, chairman smith said in his opening remarks. history matters. the relationship between russia and syria goes back of course to the cold war whether it was the ussr. they've had a base for many years picked up relationship in the post soviet russia was reinvigorated -- >> excuse me. the history lesson will take several months. but specifically today -- >> i promise i will get there in 20 seconds. the relationship was reinvigorated in 2013 or 14 when russia moved in under assad and
begin working closely with syrian forces. so the come back to question about the national defense strategy. the principal way that ics countering russia consistent with the nds is through our nato allies, through our partners. we seen success. i was just at the london meeting last week. the nato allies are spent $140 $140 billion more annually than they had before. where focus on the nato ready initiative -- >> can you please focus on syria-turkey? >> my biggest concern with the syrian turkey is actually turkey-russia. concern as turkey is moving out of the nato orbit as i said publicly on several occasions. i think her child and of how we can get them back into closer into the nato alliance because they are critical in long-standing 70 year partner of ours. >> and the withdrawal of american troops from the
northern syria, how does that help carry out the goal you just did? >> when you look at the situation at the time we faced maybe one or two scenarios. one would eventually our troops to stand in the face of a turkish onslaught, which both chairman billy and i agree were not worth risking our soldiers lives. option two would of been an uncrackable option which the fighting a long-standing nato ally. >> think you missed one step that preceded that, and that is the president's decision to withdraw. how did that address the big power competition? did it not allow russia to exert its influence in the area, including its troops, american troops? >> the decision to withdraw was precipitated by months of events leading up to that that culminate and president erdogan
speaking to the president and saying very clearly that he is going into turkey. is going into syria. >> i think we might be talked about the decision, not the decision to withdraw the last couple of dozen but the decision eight months earlier to withdraw, period. that decision. i don't know if that -- >> actually, the decision you just described preceded an ultimate decision that did lead to the withdrawal of american troops and the replacement of american troops by the russians and the turks and the syrians. and my question really goes to the heart of the national defense strategy which presumably is big power competition, in which case we have seriously lost a major element of our position in the region. >> so i think, i know i'm overtime but i think the bottom
line, i set this privately and publicly is i'm looking at everywhere we are in the world to include the middle east, to withdraw forces, drawdown forces responsibly so we could reallocate them toward great power conflict in europe and principally in asia, indopacom. >> and then -- >> i'm sorry, your overtime but i think that's an excellent point, that the great power competition isn't just in europe and asia. mr. rogers. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank both of you for being here and for your service and sacrifice for our country. secretary esper come in your opening statement you said the ability of the middle east women's vital to our national interest. you also listed as a priority, the mission for was to deny safety for those who would do us harm. there are some in congress and on this committee who believe it's time to pull out all of our troops in afghanistan. what would be the consequence to those priorities if he did, in fact, remove all troops?
>> in the context of afghanistan and a don't want to upset negotiations that may be happening presently with the taliban and others, i would say this much. we have an important counterterrorism mission in afghanistan. that means we have to make sure afghanistan never becomes again a safe haven for terrorists to strike the united states. our commanders i've spoken with them, general milly has, so we can reduce our force presence there and still be able to conduct that mission. i'm interested in reducing our force presence for the same reason i just outlined for mr. guerra monday. i went to reallocate forces. i think we need to make sure we can do that and the best way forward in afghanistan is to a political agreement that allows us a long-term sustainable path that ensures that the government in charge does not allow that safe haven to exist. >> thank you. general milley, in her work on homeland security committee with been tracking group that goes by hts which stands for -- this
group seems to be primarily composed of al-nusra front fighters and public with broken with al-qaeda. can you tell us much about this group and their capabilities? >> there in an unclassified session, there small group of al-qaeda that's operating in the region. they're quite dangerous, quite violent and quite ideologically committed to the cost and willing to die for the cause but they are probably an irreconcilable group. crew. some groups like the taliban can be negotiated with and we will see what that negotiation goes. other groups like al-qaeda, isis, hts and so on are very deeply committed to the cause and there's really only one way to do with them that's to kill them or how to them and hts falls into that category. >> mr. chairman, i yield the balance of my time to -- >> rank the general dunford yielding. while we are focused today on syria, the situation in middle east, the fight against isis today, i want to about the
future for a moment. as both of you know i'm coaching the future defensive task force with mr. moulton on the other side of the aisle. secretary esper, could you talk about the new capabilities that we will have and be able to use when jedi goes live and why that is so important and why delays would be costly and our fight against terrorism specifically? >> sure. first of all we have migrated many things to many clouds so far. they teepees about the next element, the jedi peace is you can get a lot of work fighting capabilities into the cloud. once you are able to do that you have two things. first of all you have better security but secondly is you can then put on top of that ai, artificial intelligence, and allow you to think and act a lot more quickly when you're in a war fight through multiple domains. look, it's critical that we move
to the cloud as quickly as possible. i underwent an education process when it entered the job at the end of july, took a couple months and i've had a chance to talk with many of you about jedi. vitally important we move to the cloud quickly and will continue to move that. >> can you elaborate on what for the delays will cause this? >> first of all we will lose ground to the likes of the chinese in terms of their ability to act, think and fight is quicker than we are able to fighting. secondly, if we don't move this piece quickly into the cloud, we may force the services do is enter separate directions. several clouds are uncoordinated i.t. plants. so that's why it's very important we move as quickly as we can onto the jedi. >> can you talk about the current contest by amazon, you are still looking for in the contracting process so that we don't have further delays, correct? >> my understanding is were
still living for. i don't want to comment further because another lawsuit has been raise, so probably would be imprudent for me to say anything. >> but the bottom line, , any further delays are costly not just in competition or strategic a petition with china or russia but in the fight against terrorism. >> absolutely and the bipartisan agreement that we need to move quickly in terms of into the cloud and into this next domain of water. >> iq. i yield back. >> thank you. ms. speier is next. >> thank you both for being here. secretary esper, how many troops did we have in syria before presidents conversation with president erdogan? >> i can't recall the specific numbers but over 1000. >> over a thousand. and then the president had the phone call, then turkey began its operation peace spring. we then, the president said we
were removing all of our troops on october 14, and then it was said that we were only going to stay in syria to guard the oil. and how many troops are going to be there to guard the oil? >> well, first of all, the initial plan was to retain some troops down south. so that was never off the table, if you will. we can talk in closed session about that number. the current number in northern syria summer between 500-600 at this point. >> are we there to guard the oil or are we there to repel isis. >> we are there to ensure the enduring to be divisive. so i sub task of that is to deny isis access to the oh because whoever controls the oil controls a resource that allows them to buy -- >> i understand that.
ambassador jeffrey and amnesty international vindicated their isolated war crimes going on in syria by turkish troops. can you speak to the ethnic cleansing that i think all of us have been concerned about going on there by the turkish sources. >> was i'm not well in of those in particular. i'll tell you the first week the turks moved in i spoke out publicly if the reports on the battlefield comes to the media that were consummate been committed and i said very clearly though should be investigated and persons held accountable. >> the persons being the turkish -- >> first of all whoever committed than on the grant and then whoever sanctioned them or direct them in the chain of command. >> you have been in contact with ambassador jeffrey about these incidents the reported? >> no, i have not. >> all right. chairman miller, you referenced earlier in your come at you want to see afghan to afghan talks
taking place in terms of a cease-fire. so my question is, why are the afghans of the table and negotiating with the taliban? >> it's really i think the other way around. i think the taliban come to my understanding is the taliban is refusing to formally negotiate with the government of afghanistan because the don't recognize the legitimacy of the government. the taliban will not -- to have this three-way negotiating going on with the united states being the third part of. then there are other players involved. so the direct negotiation, formal direct negotiation between the government of afghanistan and the taliban, to my understanding is that happening not because the government doesn't want to do it but because taliban don't want to do it. i think and i don't want to presuppose outcomes, i think we're closer rather than further away on that particular task
happening on afghan to afghan negotiation. that would be a good thing because the war must come to an end and it's the only response of which it is afghan stockinged afghan. >> so you will make sure that there are female afghan ace at the table than? >> i'm not running the negotiations. that's part of the department of state. we are not come we're supporting the military operations on the ground but we are not part of those negotiations we don't have responsibly to do that. >> all right. i think there's been a lot of concern about discipline and the respect for the law of war as a reason to keep our troops safe and maintain command authority needed to fight effectively. yet last month the president pardoned three war criminals. chairman milley kum how does that impact our ability to maintain discipline in the
ranks? >> let me first all three cases are different. only one of them, lieutenant lorance was convicted of war crimes and served seven years in prison for those war crimes. second case, gallagher, was convicted of the work on taking a photograph with a dead body. he was not convicted of a murd. that was an allegation. so he wasn't convicted in a court of law. in the third case, goldstein, he never went to cost we don't know if he's convicted a lot because he never went to trial. in this country are innocent until proven guilty. he was never proven guilty. each one of those is different and i don't want to group them and say they are, in fact, war criminals because you have to be proven that in a court of law. point number two i think for all of us to remember, and i mentioned this to all of those in uniform, is the president of united states is part of the process. he is the command in chief. so he has the full authority --
>> i apologize. you are over time. i had to take a stab at that. she's asking how does it affect -- >> i was getting different in that he's part of the process and good order and discipline is maintaining a lot of giveaways but one of them is to maintain adherence to the process. the present united states is part of the process and we are maintaining good and discipline within our military. >> i'm sorry, have to move on. mr. lamborn. >> thank you, mr. chairman. before asked the question i want to commend you and the ranking member for an agreement on the ndaa. we've all worked hard but the two of you have put in countless hours and we appreciate that. no one ever gets everything they want but i think we have a product we can all be proud of. so want to thank you for that. i also want to thank mr. wilson for his work on the windows tax
in particular. my question is about iran. conventional wisdom has it that iran, the persians if you will, control four arab capitals in the region. and there's a lot of angst about what they're doing in syria. what are they doing militarily in syria and what are we doing about it, for both of you, please. >> thank you for the question. currently iran has a lot of influence in many capitals, in many parts and not just the middle east but also africa, in afghanistan as well. it's hard to discuss that in the session. we would have to go to closed session but it's everything from monitor support, payment of fighters, arms, arms trafficking. it's political support as well. so that's just give you don't wave tops of what that looks like. but i will say the maximum pressure campaign and again we can't get to it in the session
but as the ravens have dried up, it's also affected their ability to pay and do some of those things. that's a good thing. >> general milley? >> as the secretary mentioned, not a lot you can say specifically in this but iran is very, very active with their various special forces and of the capabilities, not only in syria but also in iran. >> i'm going to yield the bows of my time to my friend and colleague with the honor of representing pensacola, matt gaetz. >> thank the gentleman for unity. mr. secretary, on what to thank you and thanked the president for instituting a review of the saudi program. i also wish i'd more time to reflect on the heroism of the sailors who ran toward gunfire and you also informed on the location of the shooter during this terrorist attack. during this review that you are conducting, is the program paused next are we going to be
taking in new saudi students? >> first of all my condolences to our constituents and you're right there was a lot of heroism on the ground that day. very tragic day for everybody. so yes, we have directed i standdown that would limit saudi participation in our u.s.-based training to classroom training only until we can do expedited vetting of all saudi students here and the united states. i spoke to the deputy defense minister yesterday. by the way, graduate of pensacola naval air treading. he agreed and fully supports this. they are going to do parallel vetting to make sure we understand -- >> during that time do incoming students or not? >> i can't answer that affirmatively but i would have to get back to you on that. >> this is a issue of great importance to my constituents. it's a very fair question but -- >> i would hope for a certain with individual be able to make a public save as to whether or not we're taking in new students while you're undergoing that
vetting process. >> i think i know the answer but it don't want to do something -- want to be affirmative and what the county. i think it's a very reasonable thing to do. >> thank you. there are number of saudis that are currently with us on your base in pensacola who court has a access to those people doing investigation? >> of the dublin also that were immediate friends, acquaintances, et cetera of the alleged killer, the fbi, department of justice has control of them on the base. >> so who has access to those people? i specifically want to know our embassy personnel, others speaking with him talking to perhaps providing communication with these people for we are holding for question? >> i don't know exactly. i want to say a navy muslim chaplain may have axes. certain the fbi, dhl -- doj district i think the saudi commander has access. >> how about embassy personal? >> i don't know.
>> that's also really important because to be this is -- >> i can assure you somebody knows. i just don't know right here. i'll get back to you. >> i appreciate your prompt attention because that's something i think deeply informs on what we can do as policymakers to try to improve this relationship with the kingdom. at some point there's only so much of his where going to go to take where the king condenses or some quirky part of the royal family that's off doing some different thing. these saudi students, their connected folks who end up in pensacola and appreciate your great efforts and i look for to those answers and i think the chairperson daltons and i think the gentleman for yielding. >> thank you. i want to go those concerns. certainly the tragic event in pensacola deserves our attention and sympathy and admiration for those who responded, but the broader issue, the probabilities we might face from saudi present the u.s. is something we need to
address now and be as transparent as possible so i appreciate your answers on that and look forward to follow as well. >> i need to expand come aquatech with what we're saying but to expand we will look not just at -- we are looking for all foreign nationals coming to the united states to make sure with the best, strongest vetting procedures we have so we are confident regardless of where folks come from we know who's coming to our country. it's a very important program. we just had to get it right. we have to do it better. >> thank you. mr. moulton. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. secretary esper, i would like to start with you. regarding iran, my understand is the administrations three objectives for iran are to deter regional aggression of ring and went back to negotiating table to get a strobe deal, is that correct? >> i'm going to cast it differently. our overall goal is to get iran to be a normal country that behaves normally.
the key aspects -- actually four think of nuclear weapons, can have access to nuclear weapons. number two missiles. number three, the behavior throughout the region and beyond, and number force hostagetaking. >> so hostagetaking has never been stated before the let's focus on the first three that we can all agree on. since president trump pulled out of the iran nuclear deal against the best advice of secretary mattis, secretary of defense, to chairman dent for, the chairman the joint chiefs of staff, literally hundreds, hundreds of military and national security professionals, even many who were opposed to signing the deal initially but ragged as the nationals could he risk of pulling out and breaking our work as a country, breaking a work truck closest allies in the world, since doing that have you seen any evidence of success for the administrations strategy? >> yes, yes, i have in the contt the maximum pressure campaign
has denied the resources. because of its dramatic effect it's had on the economy. we've seen the europeans make movements in our direction. you saw europeans expressing concerns about how iran has been violent -- >> i'm sorry, but europeans were not listed. these are the goals the goal is to limit their nuclear weapons capability and the rent is not advancing the nuclear weapons capability. they are much closer to having a nuclear bomb than a were under the deal. international and american inspectors verified that were followed the deal. since pulling out iran has advanced their nuclear weapons capability the second point was deterring aggression. iran was attacking us before. i've been attacked americans in the iran. i've friends who were grievously wounded and killed by iranian weapons in iraq. iran has never rejoin those attacks and we've got to all the ways in which iran's regional aggression has picked up.
but it's pretty quiet under the do. there's a question those attacks have picked up as we pulled up. >> what we saw after the deal was consummated and money was returned to the wayside uptick in activities and in terms of the missile program. >> you would say there is less activity now than when we had the deal? it were not attacking saudi oil fields. that's just an absurd conclusion and that's obviously not true. on the third point come to the iran negotiating table, we were with them at the negotiating table. we had lines of communication with them under the jcpoa. we do not have those lines of communication. have you seen any evidence that they are coming back to the negotiating table to negotiate these stronger deals to further limit their nuclear capability? >> no, but that is -- >> thank you, mr. secretary. >> there's more to an answer to this question. >> i understand the message wants to talk about the national
irish campaign and all the way it turned their economy but i'm just holding you to your strata strategy. your stated strategy, and on all three points did administration strategy is saving. the administration is worse off, we are worse off, less safe than we were under the jcpoa. i have only a minute left spears i think synergies take time to plant and i think if you look at everybody -- >> you might be right in the future but we're talking about today. there's no evidence this is working. >> let's have one person talking at a time. >> chairman milley, thank you for your clarification about the three servicemen. because to your point, innocent until proven guilty only to make of them have been convicted of war crimes. we have to back out of three who are war criminals. i received a text from a sergeant major in the marines after the 70 said trump involving self and all the cases of these classic dickens of an appropriate in a combat zone
like eddie gallagher is appalling. basically setting up president of the rule of law and a combat zone doesn't apply and encourages folks to start burning villages and pillaging like genghis khan. and if you don't like it really just tell trump personally and he will overturn it. the man is greatly marginalize the positions of the service leaders. is this sergeant major of marines wrong? >> i think the uniform code of military justice and the means by which we maintain good order and discipline are a critical element in order to maintain that capability and somewhat augmented in combat zones and i think it's critical. there's much of what, understand what sergeant majors coming from, and i know the advice that was given, which i'm not going to share here, and, but the president of the united states is part of the process, and he has the legal authorities to do what he did and he weighed the
conditions and the situation as he saw fit. he is part of the process. we do maintain and we will maintain good order and discipline. we will not turn into a gang of raping burning and pillaging thugs as sergeant major implied. >> i appreciate that. this is sergeant major of the marines, got a purple heart and baby cross. we are defending the actions of a draft dodger. >> i'm not defending speedy i'm sorry, mr. mullin, this could go on for very long time. >> i respect -- >> i will just say yes, the president is part of the process. what we're concerned that is the way he is being part of the process right now is unhelpful as mr. moulton describes. mr. scott. >> thank you, mr. chairman. gentlemen, when we have these meetings i bring my computer so i can pull up the map of the
middle east, and every time i pulled a map of it reminds me of the need to have partners over there with common values and common interests, and we seem to have very few that have both of those. we obviously have jordan, israel, but when i look at the others i will tell you i think the vote of disapproval or whatever the term is with regard to the withdrawal of the troops, i trust your judgment on that, even though i voted for that resolution. i think that was, that my vote as many votes was indicative of the fact that the kurds have been a good partner and we believe that as of today turkey as a partner of necessity but not a good partner, and i think we recognize that when he turkey to be a good partner, and we hope that happens sooner rather than later.
i've been to the refugee camps in turkey. i've been to the want ones in , and it's a tough scenario. especially in the middle east as a kaleidoscope. when one thing changes, a whole bunch of other things change. i do have a bit of an issue with the statement on the aumf. i think the aumf does absolutely give you the authority on behalf of the united states to strike terrorists and terror cells where you see them. i do not believe that the aumf in '01 and '02 gives us the authority to base in countries uninvited at a think that's a for the discussion that congress needs to have in whether or not we were allowed to base uninvited in countries almost 20 years after an authorization for use of military force that did not include those countries was
passed. with that said, if i can focus more narrowly on one thing, general mattis whom i have come as a matter of respect for wanted to move to preparing for china and russia. one of the victims of that was the ehc. they are no longer flying. they have just been removed. my question is are the ground forces responsibility for receiving the proper intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance coverage, they need to detect and counter the ground threats and what additional things do you need from this committee to make sure that the forces have the adequate coverage? >> the commander general mckinsey, he is not requested additional. in fact, centcom for the last many, many years has the
preponderance of ice are, the u.s. military. pacom gets a lot centcom gets a lot. so i don't think they are at a lack of adequate isr. there's not a commander out there who doesn't want more isr. everybody wants all the time that general mckinsey has to come up and said hey, i need this, that, or the other thing immunity sort of thing it if you get we would give it to him. >> mr. secretary, understand the ehc, the recap, was not a system that we would necessarily use against russia and china or near peer competitors, but i do believe it was a mistake to not go forward with the recap of that program. it's a low-cost program that we could have used, and certainly anywhere in the western hemisphere it would've helped us in africa, we could've used it. we we could use it in a majority
of the areas where we are currently operating. while i recognize the decision was made under the previous secretary, i just want to express my belief that it was a mistake not to go ahead and recap. i think it will be seen as a mistake is canceling the f-22 before the replacement system. i respect both of you, you know, i do think the committee needs to look at whether the aumf from '01 and '02 gives us the billy to base in the country. with that ideal the remainder of my time. >> mr. rounds. >> thank you, mr. chairman. want to return to syria and so the express my concerns. i thought it was a grave mistake that the president decision to relocate our forces to the northeast region of syria and
essentially abandon our partners, the kurdish syrian democratic forces, i think it runs counter to your work, your effort, your responsibility, our responsibility in the characters and fight but it also think it runs counter to our objectives are state and nationals could is tragic of national defense strategy which is to prepare for great power competition. in this case competition presented by russia. just this sunday the commander-in-chief of the led syrian democratic forces wrote we know we would have to make painful compromise is with moscow and bashar al-assad difficult than the road of working with them, expressing his lack of confidence in support for him and his forces the he goes on to say but if we have to choose between compromise is and genocide our people we will choose life for our people. we are seeing russian flags that are flying outside of the
turkey-russia patrol area. we know that russian now has taken possession military bases built by u.s. taxpayers, and russia is essentially supporting the syrian government in regaining control over the entire country and establishing itself a sphere of influence for russia. can you please tell us what concerns you have about russia's increasing presence in syria? >> well, as i look at the global situation, someone mentioned before we compete with russia all around the globe, principally in europe but other places with the middle east and even africa. my principal concern with regard to the kurds was in the sdf specifically was that the nation was the enduring -- >> let me fine-tuned. it's russia. are you concerned about russia's growing influence in syria, and
what impact that will have and their ability to even expand influence in the entirety of the middle east? are you concerned about russian? >> i'm concerned about russian and other parts of the middle of these. >> are you concerned about russia in syria? >> not as much because they've had a pretty solid footprint there for five years since i first moved in. >> d.c. the footprint expanding? >> it has in the last month or half. >> the second journey? >> some but i'm more concerned about russia's expansion into egypt, saudi arabia and other places. there's only so much come so many resources and time you can focus on. the bigger issue with russia was the nexus of russia in turkey. that's what really concerns me is the russia turkey nexus. >> i don't have much time, two minutes left so let turn to afghanistan. both of you mentioned afghanistan into opening comments and the president's advice in afghanistan. i travel to niger. we have about 800, 900 troops
there. in syria our number was about 900. using the various authorities, 127 echo, triple three, we seem to be effectively supporting local partners in the counter effort. we have 14,000 troops in afghanistan. have you developed, have you considered an option where we have a minimal footprint purely for the purposes of counter operations regardless of the ability and the viability of the afghan government and their forces? >> i will take the first stab, again the chairman will come back but but i will say short r is yes. the command on the grant will tell you that in some ways you can't diss aggregate because afghans are playing an increasingly important role and, of course, went to protect our intelligence people out there.
that's probably a source i can go on that matter right now right here, but chairman. >> short answer is yes. with multiple options. >> and in the classified setting would you be able to brief us on what that minimal footprint is like? >> i can do that. >> thank you. i yield back. >> mr. wittman. .. and we talked about a lot of different issues. one of the areas we talked about was the relationship between turkey, pkk, ypg or really, lack thereof and what that was doing to the u.s.-turkey relationship and
how she saw what was happening there. i want your perspective how do you think we reconcile what appears to be an inconsistent approach in training syrian ypg forces that potentially, as things r things ramp down or spread out from syria could actually go back and join the fight with pkk forces within turkey, which is really inflammatory towards the turks and how they see that? so, is there a way that we can tailor that policy to best suppress isis forces in syria without subsequent negative consequences for turkey? because they look at it and just say how can you support, you know, these folks are that perpetrating terrorism in turkey? of course, what we're saying is listen, let us help defeat isis in syria and then we'll make sure we turn back around. i want to get your perspective on that. >> i think the fundamental difference, mr. wittman, thanks for the question. we have fundamentally different
views, we being the united states and our allies, whether the ypg is a terrorist organization. we don't and neither do many of our allies, but the turks do and that's holding up to the detriment of that and we have designate the foreign organizations. fair to say that there's fluidity on the ground between people in these groups and it's hard to pin that down, but we make our best assessment as to who we think really is a terrorist organization and who is not and turkey wasn't happy with the fdf either because it included, you know, members of ypg, but other groups as well. the fact that wng were members of part of the coalition, didn't like the sdf along the border, et cetera, et cetera. >> i think their concern was, listen, we have clear evidence that wng forces are
infiltrating into pkk and we believe they're part of perpetrating those attacks and we said the same thing that you said, that is that we're trying to distinguish forces that are sympathetic to u.s. causes versus those that may perpetrate harm against turkey. >> and we try to take those considerations and address them up to the point of the incursion to establish the safe zone, if you will, and it was unsatisfactory to the turks with regard to what we were doing. they wanted-- they had clear ambitions how far they wanted to go, the depth and extent of their operation and what they wanted to do afterward. >> thank you, i'm going to yield the balance. >> thank you. gentlemen, are you familiar with the case of staff sergeant robert bails, convicted of the kandahar massacre, 2012? >> yes. >> that was a sergeant who
literally lost his mind and walked into an afghan village and machine-gunned 16 afghans, he's know you convicted of that crime, of that war crime, is life in prison. do you have any indication that the president is considering releasing, pardoning staff sergeant bails for his war crimes? >> not that i-- >> know you know of. >> no. >> i would submit to my colleagues that's a war criminal we need to be careful about, throwing around that team. in the case of navy chief gallagher, reminding my colleagues acquitted of murder. he was convicted of taking a photo with a dead body. he is now retiring, he is no longer commanding seal, he's not going to be promoted. is it within the president's authority, given the balance of his service, his multiple valor awards and combat tours to say retiring no longer commanding fields not being promoted, but also not being demoted.
is that within his authority. >> just to clarify, he was promoted, but he's now retired and all that was within his-- was within the president's authority. >> do you believe that he deserves to be called a war criminal? >> i'd have to review the crime that was he was charged with, appearing with a corpse, have to read it and understand it and come back to you with that. >> he was acquitted of the murder charge and another seal admitted on the seal dramatically he was the one that killed in a mercy killing knowing that that isis fighter w was. >> he was acquitted of the murder charge, but convicted of holding up the corpse, a violation of the law of armed conflict as i understood during my time as a military officer. >> gentleman's time expired. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you, mr. secretary and general for your service. i want to follow up on the exchange you had with representative spear and i understand your position is
that the 2001 au authority to fight isis and we're there to protect the oil because we don't want isis to get it. i disagree with that theory, but i want to bracket that and see if you at least acknowledge we don't have the authority to do what the president is calling for. president trump on october 27th stated clearly, we are leaving soldiers to secure the oil. now we may have to fight for the oil. that's okay. maybe somebody else wants the oil in which says they have a hell after fight. it can help us because we should be able to take some, also, and what i intend to do perhaps is make a deal with exxonmobil, one of our great companies. would you acknowledge that this congress has not authorized in any way the united states to go in and steal syrian oil and make money off of it? >> i'm not aware of the congress granting any authority along those lines. i'm also unaware of what inherent authorities the
president does or does not have in this regard. i'm focused on the military task of denying isis access to the oil. >> can you assure us there are no plans for us to take the oil and sell the oil. >> all i can tell, i'm not aware of any plans right now. >> the second question i have regarding the bombshell washington post report on the afgh afghan papers. i imagine you read that. >> the bottom line, the top military officials and civilian officials have known that the afghan war has been unwinnable and have been misleading the american public for 20 years. your predecessor, secretary rumsfeld quoted as saying i have no visibility into who the bad guys are. are you embarrassed by secretary rumsfeld's comments and other people quoted and do you believe they owe the american public an explanation and apology? >> congressman, i haven't read all the stories, frankly, so before i comment on what secretary rumsfeld repo purporty
said or didn't say i'd want to talk to him. i do know the story expand multiple administrations and uniformed officials and good to look back. at this point i'm looking forward and forward tells me the political win is an agreement between the parties on the ground. >> don't you think we have to have some accountability so we don't make the mistake again? would you support this committee holding hearings on the afghan papers and calling in front of congress every official who misled the american public whether this war was winnable or not with 2400 american soldiers dead and 75,000 americans deployed? don't you think they owe the american people explanation. >> sure, many of those dead are my friends and i don't think you want the executive branch making that call. >> mr. chairman, i would
request that this committee hold a hearing on the afghan papers and held for those people who misled this country and just like the pentagon papers, the highest priority what came out in this bombshell report. >> we'll pause your time. i think it's appropriate to have hearings, i'll tell you upfront to set expectations correctly, i'm not going to call every single witness who has every single thing to do with this, i do not believe it's a productive use of the committee's time. i do think it's something to look at and get explanations, but i don't want to set-- >> i respect that. at least having prominent people come and explain not american public. my final question concerns yemen and i appreciate that the administration has voluntarily suspended the refueling of the planes, but we've had a situation of course now our own
bases and representatives gates district, saudi nationals who are being trained and are attacking americans and i guess the question the american public is asking, why in the world would we be providing the saudi air force with any possible logistical help to conduct bombing in yemen when 10 million civilians possibly face famine. >> mr. congressman we're not providing the saudis logistical help with regard to activities in yemen. we're providing saudi and 152 other countries training in the united states. why? because we have a distinct advantage over russia and china who don't have allies and partners and i think the important that we continue the programs so that we have-- >> committee submit that we don't help the saudi air force logistically or in maintenance to do anything in terms of their bombing in yemen? >> you can define help pretty broadly, right? we probably trained saudi
personnel to do maintenance here in the united states, i don't know, but-- >> can we stop doing maintenance of the saudi aircraft in saudi arabia and not have any of our men and women assist the saudis in their mission into yemen? >> i'd just have to get you-- come back with you and let now what we are and are not doing with regard to the saudis and what the impact would be on not just the saudis, keep in mind the same saudi aircraft might be the same saudi aircraft we call on to help blunt an iranian assault or help us respond to an iranian attack so you've got to be thoughtful what actions we take and don't take. >> the-- >> the foreign policy got sucked in a black hole and we face a similar challenge to say if we do not identify high
impact life approach in centcom it will suck up the time and resources and we won't implement-- with that in mind i'd like to ask about china, not syria, but two things are linked in my mind as they are on yours. september 11th, we joined in sending you, mr. secretary, 1237 of the fy 99 and of the chinese military operate nth united states. we're waiting on a response, 20 years late. we would really appreciate you delivering a response to the letter. >> i'm sorry i'm not on track, it's a good question, and somebody who studied china now for a quarter of a century we need to be careful about all of their activities in the united states and you've touched on one of them. >> i think given your background on the china commission and you're very well situated to talk about the
issues and did talk at the reagan this weekend. and the following the determination of the russia's breach under the obligation on the agreement and withdraw august 2nd. since then only one inf range test coming up shortly stem from great work being done by sco. what are you doing, mr. secretary to ensure the two range capabilities under development are incorporated by the service into fy 21 budget? >> we are having the right people. having the capability is essential, i'm not countering what the russians deployed in europe, but maybe more importantly china. china has thousands of intermediate range missiles along the periphery.
>> there was a prohibition on range procurement and deployment could be mitigated because the current range for capabilities, but in other words, you're not actually going to deploy those missiles in the next year or so. but if it similar provision were adopted by fy 21. what would be the impact for the nds. >> depending on the current development and deployment time lines and again, i'm assuming the commanders need the weapons and if they do i want to provide those. it would take a tool out of our hands. i don't see any possibility that we're going backward. the nato analysis, getting out of inf and address it with our own system and defend against russian systems. >> back to where it started.
centcom's needs are obvious and apparent every day, open up the newspaper and also in u-com we've established the europe european-- we have an authorized account for indo pay com, but we haven't funded as we did. and given china, would a similar funded mechanism for indo pacom be useful going forward? >> depends where you're taking money from. part of it in indo pacom is our footprint on the ground in that point, yes. we're trying, with regards to the partners, help them help us as we expand that footprint. we will have to make choices and if i believe the logic of nds as i do. that would be the priority. we have to presume risk.
>> if i had to pour concrete in some locations and build bases, i should be prioritizes indo pacom. >> one final question, about syria, i don't have an opportunity to talk to both of you. and exercising with the taiwan navy, in the '70s and '80s, the policy the last decade, is it still the policy to prohibit bilateral exercises between united states navy and chinese navy. >> beyond a yes and no, that's for the record unless you can get it done with a yes or no. >> i'll get back to you. >> thank you, mr. keating. >> thank you, dr. esper and general milley for being here. general milley your service is not only extraordinary, but lengthy. and i look back princeton and
rotc, is that correct. right around 1980? >> that's correct, congressman almost 40 years now. >> thank you, it is extraordinary in length and i have a question for you, quickly, in that regard. during that almost four decades, or four decades of service and several presidents having served our country during that period of time, could you share with us other instances where presidents had pardoned war criminals in your experience since you've been in the military during that time? >> presidents have pardoned individuals many, many times, as you know, for example, president nixon, a very famous case pardoned lieutenant kelly, who murdered 130-some odd women-- >> during your time, decade. >> in my 40 years, long time. someone who has alleged to admitted war crimes. >> someone who-- >> convicted of war crimes, do
not think of one. >> i can't think of one either, general. >> hasn't been done historically. but 40 years, several presidents, a long time. so thank you for that. >> right. >> in your joint statement, both of you said you're focused on internationalizing the response to iran's provocative activities encouraging increased burden sharing and allies with partners. a very important issue and i also serve in the foreign affairs committee and recently we had special representative for syria, mr. jeffrey testifying. during that testimony he did say, and i agree with him, 100%, that it was a mistake when he was referencing to pull out with our allies. we have something for our country, probably the greatest threat, china. we have something that they don't have. we have something that russia doesn't have.
we're this extraordinary coalition. i think it's one of the biggest difference makers that we have. and special representative jeffrey, myself, a lot of other people, we're concerned. those allies weren't even informed about what our action would be, even though they had troops on the ground there. and i'm concerned about not having that kind of notification. what can we do going forward to really make sure we have greater communication? i know that wasn't a decision you made or the military made. >> no, you about i would-- if i may, i know that i personally called our allies and i believe, i won't speak for the secretary, i believe he did as well and i believe some people in the department of state, perhaps secretary pompeo, i don't know about the rest of them. i personally called our allies in syria as soon as decisions were made. >> how long was that? >> it was quick. >> like what?
>> it was quick. >> what's quick? >> fast. >> what's fast? >> i'd have to go back and check the phone records. >> well. >> it was very, very-- >> days? >> no, that's pretty fast. much faster than that. >> a day? yeah, it was inside of that. >> inside of a day. >> that's not what i call having-- not that your fault, great cooperation and communication. >> i think it's so important going forward to have this. now, you're referencing in joint statement, some of other countries that are dealing with maritime and navigation issues and look at the list in u.k., australia, al balbaniabain-- albania, and so many countries that are allies in activities. can you share where we reached out and communicateed with other allies and they haven't done what they quite often do and join us in these? i'm just concerned. >> i can speak to that,
congressman. >> on both the international maritime security construct and the air and missile defense effort. i personally made calls to many allies in both asia and europe, and asked for assets. and was told, and was told either not possible or we'll think about it and you can see how many are there right now. >> i can see how many who aren't there, too, that are usually there. that's a concern i have. my time is running out. >> i want to highlight-- >> your point of allies and foreigners is critical. we in the united states of america depend for access basing and other things and military operations allies and we want to keep allies close and-- >> and we're getting-- >> we're done so. >> and thank you. >> mr. gates. >> thank you, mr. chairman, and i want to make sure that your call and mr. connor's call for hearings on the afghan paper is a bipartisan one. i believe that those are issues that we ought to look into and
i trust, given your thoroughness that we will address that. we have been trading the same villages back and forth in afghanistan for 20 years and i think the american people deserve answers. mr. chairman, i also want to thank you and the ranking member for your work on the ndaa and i'm deeply disappointed it doesn't include the amendment that mr. connell and i worked on for restraint of use of military force in a regime change war with iran. >> and just for the record, i share your disappointment, but we have to work with the senate and the president. >> i know that you worked hard on it it's crazy to me in washington, mr. chairman, that something that passes the house with a robust majority, every democrat, dozens of republicans, it's up in the senate more people vote for it than against it, but given the ways of washington it can still not be in the bill. >> well, if the-- >> a little swampy than that.
>> and i think you have a better relationship with that person that is i do and work with the president on that bill. >> and i wills would suggest that a practical restrained and realistic view of foreign policy is entirely consistent with the trump doctrine and it may be a minority view on the congress and this committee, but i fully support the administration's decisions in the syria and turkey theater. it is my belief that we ended up in this mess in syria as a consequence of the prior administration, being all over the place on regime change wars in syria that created second and third order effects that the trump administration is now having to deal with, as i see things and a very challenging and complicated environment where there's been a great deal of war for a great deal of time, you have done all you can to balance regional interests, reduce u.s. risk and the u.s.
footprint and then secure the resources that will function as the leverage for the kurds to have the greatest opportunity to have a say in their own future. and this notion repeatedly reflected in this committee on both sides of the aisle that because we are an ally with a group of people in one instance because our interests align in that case, that that somehow morally binds us to every conflict they have, past present or future is crazy to me. if we accept that doctrine, itle not enhance the utility of our future alliances, it will diminish them because we will not be able to engage in those alliances given the complicated world in which we live today. i do want to go back to pensacola for a moment because it's very central to the thinking of many of my constituents. i understand with the saudi government we have a status of forces agreement, that set this program up. that status of forces agreement has within it, you know, various accommodations for
access, to me when the uniformed military of another country attacks and kills my constituents wearing the uniform of our country, maybe we don't have to be as faithful to a contract regarding access, but we should be more concerned about ensuring that we contain the terrorism and hold those responsibility. so perhaps you can inform me on what role the status of forces agreement is playing in the ongoing diplomatic standoff or negotiation that we're currently having with the kingdom regarding those people currently in custody. >> it's a fair question. >> excuse me, sorry, it's a good question. i honestly am not up to speed with what sof says in regard to this and i'll have to get back. >> it's my sincere hope that that's not limiting the work of the fbi or creating unique challenges by having the kingdom make the demands by
having the personal interact with people that we're currently holding and this is a question i get a lot from my constituents and maybe you can elaborate on it. the people who are activity duty military attack our country, why is that viewed as a law enforcement event rather than an event like more akin to an act of war where we would hold these people as prisoners of war, people in conflict, rather than like giving them the full complement of the rights articulated in the status of forces agreement? >> i'll say upfront i think we need the investigation to play itself out. in this case we're obviously, saudi arabia is a partner. we've not in war with them, we don't actually have hostility with them whatsoever so in this case i look upon it as the act of an individual at this point. we need to find out whether there's more behind it or not, but certainly, it was not a state sponsored action as far as i can tell. >> i'm not saying that it is. but i don't think that the
statement that this is the work of an individual is going to age well. >> i'm saying at this time that's all i'm saying, one, we need to let the investigation tell us what else is out there. >> that's another argument we'll have to leave at that point, but i think that's something worth investigating. mr. crowe. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i appreciate both of your testimony today and your accessibility, i found both of you under your tenure to be very accessible to the committee and i appreciate that. notwithstanding some of my colleague on this committee's attempts to exercise revisionist history on blaming the prior administration. the bottom line, this administration has no overarching policy in the middle east with respect to syria. it appears to be fairly ad hoc decisions stumbling from one decision to the next and there's no greater illustration to the fact that the first week of october, led a congressional
delegation to the region where we discussed security issues and we discussed numerous military and diplomatic individuals, none of whom had any idea that we were about to exercise precipitous withdrawal from northern syria and brings me to my first question, general milley. several of those officials expressed grave concern about the security of isis prisoners in the prisons in northern syria and i just wanted to clarify what i heard you say today that you don't have any concern currently, even though the situation seems to be less secure now than it was in early october given our much lower footprint in that area. but don't have any concern about the security of those prisoners, is that accurate? >> south of the 30 kilometer buffer zone, the reports i have indicate that the sdf is still securing the 24 prisons for which they are responsible for. inside the 30 kilometer buffer zone we don't have that level
of visibility. so i can't say one way or the other. i think there were seven, if i'm not mistaken, from several facilities inside. >> and general, did we have that visibility before our withdrawal? did we have that visibility on those prisons that you just indicated before our withdrawal and now we do not? >> of course, they were located in some respects and they had those detention facilities. since the government of turkey went into those-- into that incursion zone, internationally legal-- >> from the first week of october, we're in a less-- we're in a worse position with respect to oversight of those prisons than we were or are currently now than we were two months ago? >> i would say we have less visibility because the turkish government has responsibility and we don't have the visibility on those detention facilities. >> next question, there have been several public media reports about iranian drones
called suicide drones conducting oversight operations over our forward operating bases in syria, iraq and potentially jordan. standing here today, if there's an iranian drone attack on one of our forward operating bases on one of those countries. do those forward operating bases and do the soldiers have the necessary material equipment and intelligence to defend against those attacks? >> i would say that, first of all, it's a very serious threat. we are a weaeawear-- aware of it and in some cases we can mitigate the threat, but to say that we could eliminate the threat, that would be a false statement. no, we don't have everything that we would absolutely want that technology can provide. >> i would add that this, our ability to respond is not unique to iranian drones. it's a challenge that we face rit large and that's why i recently reassigned the responsibility for counter uas systems to the agencies. we need to get ahead of this.
because the offensive technology is changing more quickly than our defensive means to deal with it. >> thank you, secretary esper. >> last question, general milley. you're a special forces officers and work with local forces a lot throughout your career. there's bipartisan concern on the hill about your lack of standing by our kurdish and syrian allies that fought with us in northern syria. as a result of that, several of us have led a bipartisan bill called the syrian protection act that would create a program for the fighters and their families and allow them to come to the u.s. if they're in danger. could you speak briefly as to the positive i am fact that the programs have, not only in syria, but in afghanistan and iraq on our ability to demonstrate that we'll stand by our partners and continue to recruit partners like that throughout the world? >> i think for the united states, as we go forward, regardless where it is in the world, maintaining allies and
partners, both nation states and also indigenous partners are important to fulfill our national security objectives and everything that we can do to assure them and maintain good faith with them is a positive. >> thank you. i yield back, mr. chairman. >> thank you. mr. walls. >> i'm proud to join my colleague representative crow in that expansion of that program which is critical to our local allies and to our ability to move forward. mr. chairman, i have unanimous consent request to submit to the letter from the commander-- >> no objection, so ordered. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i'd like to return quickly to the issue of pardons and war crimes and a third case and first lieutenant lorance. i would just conclude that that line of thinking and the previous conversation, that lieutenant lorance did serve
six years. i would submit to my colleagues we need to be very careful in equating mistakes, perhaps bad judgment calls, calls that may even get you relieved of command, with a war crime and i, too, have received many texts and a lot of outreach since these pardons and most of them said that that could have been me and these split second decisions in the heat of combat. making a mistake does not necessarily equality a war crime and we have to be careful with the signal that we send. chilling signal if that you make a bad call that you could go to jail for 20 years. and i'd ask you to consider these as we go forward. general milley, i'm glad and clarify that we're fighting isis from africa to afghanistan. this is a view of political insurgency by extremists against american leadership of a world order based on western
values and that that includes iran in that support of extremism. would you agree with that characterization? >> yes. >> yes. >> and that we are dealing with a multi-generational war against extremism, against an ideology much like the war that we fought against the ideology of communism and that we need a whole of government strategy to undermine the ideology, everything from growth, education, women's empowerment, women's equal opportunity in addition to the military aspects of that? do you agree that we need that and frankly, that it's been lacking in the last 20 years of that whole of government approach? >> absolutely. i do. you have to get the root causes and deal with the ideology, absolutely. >> i think we need it. i'm not sure to what degree. look back and understanding when it's lacking, but the third piece of that is you have to have a culture of people willing to accept those ideas as well and you have to have-- it has to be organic that some part of that population has to
be receptive to those ideas. >> so we're talking about individual battles here from syria to iraq to afghanistan in that, i think, that broader conflict, where we do need that whole of government approach, do you believe, general milley in your military opinion, do you believe that isis and al qaeda can and will resurge, will regain capability and has the intent to attack the homeland if we allow it? >> second one first, do they have the intent to attack the homeland, yes, they absolutely do, we know that with certainty. do i believe with research if we withdraw all of our capabilities to the indigenous governments by with and through them. >> you do not believe then, approaching it another way. that the syrian democratic forces whether that's in syria. the national security forces in afghanistan, the iraqi security forces, currently have the independent capability without u.s. support--
>> i don't believe they have the independent capability right this minute. >> in the near term, a full withdrawal would endanger the homeland? >> it's my belief that that's correct. >> syria in particular, focus for a moment. it seems to me that we have discordant objectives. one is defeat of isis, enduring defeat of isis yet, would you agree that the assad regime backed by iran, backed by russia with the war crimes bombing hospitals and is recruiting to isis. on the one hand allowing assad continuing its streak of murderous attacks across syria, we're furthering isis. my question is what is our policy. you can submit that for the record. what's the policy towards russia, the aside regime and iran. i still have 20 seconds. >> i would say broad-based, the
overarching goal is to come up with a u.n. sponsored political settlement that ends the civil war and hits the three topics i've mentioned before objectives. not a safe haven for terrorists, or iran to the united states and global strategic energy market. >> miss slotkin. >> hi gentlemen, thanks for being here. you know, i want to go back to this decision, president's decision to allow the turks to go into northern syria and offer mr. secretary, the only reason you're sitting here today is because general mattis resigned almost exactly a year ago today on the basis of the president threatening this very decision. so, i think it makes perfect sense that we're talking about it. can i just ask, you know, i think in issue really resonated with voters back home in our districts not because they understand every in and out of where syria is and who the kurds are and all the players. they understood that the american handshake has to mean
something and that when we shook hands with the kurds we gave them the commitment at three and four star level that we would work with them and when they died with us on the battlefield that that meant something to us and we wouldn't create a situation where they're running for their lives and their families are internally displaced people. so let me ask you a question. is our plan in syria and in fighting terrorism from africa to afghanistan working by and through partners? >> yes, congresswoman, it is. >> let me go back-- >> no, mr. secretary, no. you've said that you're working by, with and through and what i want to understand is in the future of our terrorist fights in west africa and all of these places, the decision-- the demonstration of going to the kurds and telling them that we are leaving them, does that make it easier or harder to find partners to work by, with
and through for the next terrorist threat, just harder? be honest, be straight. >> i'm being honest. >> and secretary mattis was as straight as they come. be honest. >> miss slotkin, i'm sorry, if you have a statement to make, make a statement, i will give you more time. >> easier or harder. >> yield for just a moment. if you have a statement to make, you may make the statement. i don't want witnesses badgered up here. you asked him a question, you have to give him a chance to answer. if you want to make a statement, perfectly within your right, but don't badger him when he's trying to answer the question. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> the handshake with the kurds, with the sdf in particular was a handshake that we would endefeat isis, it's not a handshake to say, yes, we would help you establish an autonomous kurdish state or fight turkey for you. that's the difference there i'm trying to make the point we're trying to make. whenever we make these hand shakes, by with and through, which is our strategy, i think we need to be clear going forward as to what the extent of that relationship actually is.
>> will that be harder or easier if you're in mali or burkina faso or other places? do you think these partner groups would feel like they could trust us? >> if we're clear and explicit what the relationship is. >> you're the secretary of defense and i know folks have talked about the authorization of military force and i agree with most of my colleagues here that it desperately needs revision and that's actually congress's responsibility which they have shirked. can i ask right now, do you as secretary of defense believe that you have authorization based on any aumf on the books to go to medium or long-term war with iran? >> we always have the right of self-defense, but to attack iran, no, that's not-- as a state on state attack, no. >> thank you, i yield back. >> thank you. miss-- i know we're little over time if you'll indulge me for a minute here. miss --
>> thank you for being here, i myself served in pensacola so i look forward to hearing more about your investigations into the foreign nationals on that base. general milley, you stated that our objective is a secure middle east, given that we've defeated the physical caliphate, but knowing how important it is to protect those gains because as secretary esper stated, we haven't defeated isis and given our relationship with our kurdish allies who have certainly done a great deal of fighting for our shared objectives, excuse me, and now given that we are still conducting combined operations presumably with the roughly, i think you said 500 troops that we have remaining to fight in the region, i guess i fail to see how the president's tweet to remove troops without coordination with the pentagon or our own kurdish allies aids our objective of a secure middle east. so, have you found that tweet?
did you find that tweet to be helpful? >> i'm not sure which tweet we're talking about, to say that the president made a decision without coordination with the secretary and i is not true. >> so he tweeted out we're going to remove troops from syria and the pentagon didn't know, but you were both aware that he was going to make that tweet. >> i wasn't aware of the specific tweet. the sequencing, i'm not clear which tweet you're talking about. the most recent tweet he was going to remove the troops from syria not months ago when he -- when secretary mattis resigned. i'm talking about the one after that. >> you're talking in october when we pulled troops out. >> when we pulled troops out. >> yeah, i think that tweet, i believe that that tweet happened after we talked. but i'm not sure, i'd have to go back and check. i guess my point is this, there was coordination and there was discussion between senior
advisors and the president prior to him making a decision. >> so the senior advicers know, but none of the advisors across the world-- mr. crow was talking about his discussion with allies right before that tweet had no idea that was coming. i'll tell you many people in the pentagon had no idea that was coming, but you had discussed it internally and decided to do it without our pentagon and without our allies. >> and members of the national security counsel of the president of the united states. >> did you recommend that you pull out of syria. >> i recommended that we pulled out 28 special forces soldiers in the face of 15,000 turks that were going to invade-- >> i'm sorry, the gentleman yield for one quick second b because this is a question enormously important to me. in december, were you in different jobs at the time. >> december a year ago, or talking october? this past october? >> i'm going a different place,
simple yes or no question, just bear with me. in december when you were the secretary of the army and you were the army chief of staff, to your knowledge, did anyone in the pentagon before the president sent out his tweets that we were going to pull completely out of syria in afghanistan, did anyone in the pentagon know that that announcement was coming when the president tweeted it, to your knowledge? >> i don't know, i don't think-- >> chairman, i can't speak to that. >> you can speak to that. >> to your knowledge as the secretary of the army and the chair, to your knowledge, did anyone at the pentagon know that that announcement was coming? >> i don't know. i'm not trying to dodge because it's not a yes or no-- >> to your knowledge, yes or no. >> i can't tell you, as a service secretary. >> you do ent know what you know? >> as a service secretary, no. the service secretaries do not have an operational role. >> i just asked a very narrow question. >> i don't know. >> i don't know. >> you talk to people in the pentagon u'telling me you're
the secretary of the army and army chief of staff hanging out in the pentagon a year ago-- >> a year ago, i didn't know. >> a year ago, i don't know if anyone was told. >> october-- >> i guarantee --. >> i know about, but the early decision is the important one. >> i'm sorry to interrupt, go ahead. >> i'm also confused because now, so it's my understanding that you were deliberating with some number of people and you suggested that the president pull out 28 troops? >> let me review the bidding here. there were a variety of intelligence reports going back as far as early august of a considerable buildup of turkish forces and capabilities with the intent to invade northern syria and establish a buffer zone. president erdogan went to the united nations and held up a
map and did declaratory policy and said he was going to do that. when i became the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, one the very first calls i made was to turkey to say what are you doing? and he said we're going to do this and we cannot guarantee the safety of the american forces that are in the way. those reports went to the secretary of defense-- >> so our nato ally said we are going to do this and run through america's troops and we did not talk to our allies and we did $. >> we did talk to our allies. >> they seemed remarkably unaware that they were going to do this. >> i don't know which al lies you're talking about. >> i'm talking jordan and allies through the region, i'm talking about israel. talking our allies in the region-- >> it is not correct-- >> who did not understand we were going to pull troops out. >> which allies are you talking about? >> britain, france, israel and they were personally called
about the discussions and the situation and all fully aware of the possibilities and the discussions and the situation. the key people. i'm not going to speak for every member of the government. and then-- ments well, speak for netanyahu and-- >> i know who-- but my point being is that there were deliberations and there were 15,000 turkish soldiers and we had all the intelligence indicators written and complete they were going to attack and there were 28 special forces green berets and i'm not going to allow 28 american soldiers to be killed and slaughtered to call someone's blu someone's bluff. >> i don't understand the 28-- >> the initial advance of the invasion, we had 28 desoldiers.
>> i apologize and-- once the president made the announcement six months before we were pulling out of syria and this is actual what happened when that tweet was made, everyone went oh, my god, what did he do and we've got to figure this out. it's my opinion, sir, will you just said what erdogan did after the president without consulting the pentagon or national security council said we're pulling out of syria. someone can disavow me of this notion, and erdogan said, yes, i can do this and yes, over the course of the next six, seven, eight months planned to the series of events which you have told us and described and i think it's accurate. the other thing was, we had over 3,000 troops in syria when the president made that announcement. by the time we got to all that you just described, that number was way down. and it was way down, i'm sorry
to say this bluntly, it was way down not because it was in the national security interest of the united states for it to be way down, it was way down because the president was trying to fulfill a campaign promise and did he not consult the pentagon before he made that announcement and started us down this path. now i'm very sympathetic. once he started down this path you had to find a way to work at it. and i know secretary dunford did as well. he was trying to find partners for us-- and it's frustrating for me, there were only 25 troops there, we couldn't possibly defend them. i agree, completely agree. and i do have to give mr. thornberry a chance to respond and ms. escobar, because i said i would. i'm not trying to make a political point, but if we don't understand that, want someone to go over to the white
house and say we'd really prefer you know the to do this again, we have a process that tweets have far more power than people realize on our policy. let's try to calm that down. that's what i'm trying to calm that down. >> mr. thornberry. >> mr. chairman, it's a far more complicated story than that. it's true in december now a year ago the president issued his text. there was immediate -- there were immediate conversations, i know personally, between members of the house and the senate with the president and others at the white house related to that tweet, and as-- without going into all of the in's and outs over weeks, it is also true that there were other partners who did step up to assist in the work in syria and again, i have person knowledge of a number of those
conversations with partners. so the bottom line is, the president made a tweet. there was a lot of work and conversation. we did not withdraw from syria. and we had partners working with us. i do not believe it was inevitable that what happened in october was going to come. now, i understand your point that once he said that, it was going to happen one way or another. i can just say it's a-- i believe it's a more complicated story with a number of people who have been emphasizing to the white house and to partners that we all need to be there together because we had a lot at stake. and there was some success with that and obviously, president erdogan saw an opening and just to emphasize, i think the decision made by the secretary and the chairman to safeguard
american lives when they made it was absolutely the right decision. i have qualms with the original tweet, as you know. i don't think that was right and that's part of the reason i was involved in some of those conversations to ensure that we can continue to safeguard american interests in that region. >> thank you. ms. escobar, i apologize, i felt that was important. i know we're over time, but a couple of quick minutes. >> thank you gentlemen for being here and your testimony. i'm going to pick up with are my colleague left off. i want to be clear in understanding that. so chairman you gave the recommendation because you had gotten notice from turkey that american troops could -- their safety and security could not be guaranteed by our nato ally and that they were about to
invade and if something happens to american troops, well, something happens to american troops. is that-- am i understanding that correctly? >> that's about right. >> that's correct. so-- >> i would add that i made the recommendation as well. it's my assessment i had in discussion was my counterpart in the weeks leading up to the events of that date. >> was there an effort to negotiate with turkey to ask them to be -- to stand down and not do it. >> yes, yes. >> and how long did that effort go on before the decision-- before the recommendation was made? >> weeks. we had been working on this for actually months with the turks to restrain them by going through a number of diplomatic actions, military actions on the ground, trying to set up a safe zone. all of these things we were trying to do while the buildup was happening that tchairman described to pull them back
from syria. >> was the president involved? did he pick up the phone, did he call our ally, did he make the days himself for turkey not going forward with its plan? >> i don't know. >> i can't-- i don't know all the calls the president does or does not make. even if i knew i wouldn't convey that to you because it's-- you know, those conversations are private between me and the commander-in-chief. >> i'd be interested in a classified setting to learn that information. >> i still wouldn't share it with you, congresswoman, it's a-- just as i wouldn't share a conversation between me and you publicly or with anybody. >> i think this is an important point to me. not even as a member of congress, but as an american to know that we have troops that have been working side by side with allies and you're right, there was a handshake deal not -- not a specific commitment, however, there is something to be said for a handshake deal for a mutually beneficial
relationship that has benefitted american safety and security tremendously, that it has allowed us to push back on terrorism and on isis and so you'll have to forgive me, but this idea that-- while you're correct that, you know, it wasn't in the fine print that we were going to really be a good, strong ally, that is distressing to me as an american. >> we've both been there. not only was it not in the fine print, it wasn't in the bold print. i've spoken to our commanders, some of them were clear we're not going to defend you against turkey. >> and mr. secretary, i understand that. i think what is equally distressing to me is that hear that a nato ally was about to run rough shod over american troops and i wonder if the president got involved. so that's a question,
obviously, that you're saying not even in a classified setting you'd be willing to answer. do you all-- >> i don't know the answer to begin with, even if i did i-- >> that's distressing as well. if we're negotiating to protect american troops and to prevent an ally from creating what is now a deeply unsettling situation. i mean, 200,000 civilians have been displaced. we've seen genocide occurring. i am now concerned and i'd like your opinion, that, you know, part of what drives people into the arms of isis and what promotes terrorism is that instability, this feeling that you don't have a future. if there's anything i've learned while serving on this committee is that that kind of hopelessness is a breeding ground. is there a breeding ground right now in syria for isis? >> i don't-- i can't comment on that, i
don't know. let me tell you this, what the turks would say and i'm not defending the turkish access. this is going on for a couple of hundred years between-- >> mr. secretary, with all due respect. we had a situation that was far more undercontrol before than it is today. >> yes and no, congresswoman. if you recall from the earliest days when fds was set up under the obama administration, there was unhappiness, vocal public concern by the turks and made two previous incursions into syria they thought was a terrorist problem. >> and i know you've been-- your time, i know you've got to go so i don't want to cut you off, but at the same time i want to respect your time. i thank you very much for being here. we are adjourned. [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations]
we talk about iran, but saudi arabia that's where the problem lies. lies. >> the house will be in order. for 40 years, c-span has been providing america unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court and public policy events from washington d.c. and around the country so you can make up your own mind. created by cable in 1979, c-span is brought to you by your local cable or satellite provider. c-span, your unfiltered view of governme government. government. >> well, the u.s. senate is about to gavel in. lawmakers are working on several executive nominations today. they'll vote on the director of the u.s. fish and wildlife service followed by a vote on john sullivan to be u.s. ambassador to russia. later this afternoon senators
will also vote on fda commissioner nominee, steven hahn. now to live coverage. u.s. senate here on c-span2. the presiding officer : the senate will come to order. the chaplain, dr. barry black, will lead the senate in prayer. the chaplain: let us pray. god of grace and glory, on your people, shower your blessings. be for us a shield and sure defense. lord, as we live in this tangled world, give us the wisdom to keep our eyes on you. bless our senators. ow